Half a Plan is Often Enough

I always enjoyed bridge building in children’s cartoons, mostly because the traffic starts running both ways even while the bridge spans only half the river. But in the real world, building half a bridge is pretty useless. So is a contract signed by only half the parties, a promise only half-kept, or a project that remains half-completed.

Yet there’s something instructive about half-completed projects: they can peter out halfway through even when supported by a wonderful plan to complete them. One big reason is that, sometimes, the plan is too spotty, too sparse, with too-large gaps from one step’s objective to the next.

In the real world, these stepping stones of a plan – its interim objectives and milestones – must be close enough together to sustain the motivation and energy needed to bridge between them. But when you lay all that out, the plan can seem too immense.

Here’s an example: suppose you were hoping to write a symphony. That’s a large project, difficult, complex, and requiring a great deal of time to complete. Your plan must include the details of each of the four main movements, with musical ideas or even specific phrases for each one. If your plan is not detailed enough, it could leave you feeling lost, with profound uncertainties about how to move it along. On the other hand, with too many details laid out for completion, this project could easily seem large and overwhelming.

Either way, you might well leave it unfinished.

Fortunately, you can learn to make progress on your largest tasks, projects, and goals by sidestepping any perspective that makes them seem too daunting. That’s one reason it’s often helpful not to develop a complete plan for the full scope of a super-large task, project, or goal. Instead, it can be more helpful to make only half a plan.

The half-planning process can go like this:

Plan Just a Little

Whether you’re in the very first stage or part-way through, you can step away from any full-scope perspective and confine your planning only to the obvious one, two, or three next steps. Depending on the scope of the task, project, or goal, this way there’s little or no need to think beyond the next few hours, days, or weeks.

When you limit your thinking to the short-term, the partial plan you have established gets you moving and gives you guidance regarding what to do next. At the same time, by thinking about and planning only the short term, you avoid having to face the dreaded, daunting, discouraging look and feel of a series of milestones or stepping stones that stretches beyond your usual time horizon.

Plan Your Timetable

With the work involved in the next step or two sketched out, you can add immediacy and power to the plan by calendaring each of its elements.

Estimating how long each item will take, and setting reasonable deadlines for them adds to your motivation to get started as well as to your satisfaction when you mark the item “done.”

Work Your Half-Plan

Of course, any plan – even one laid out on a calendar – is worth only as much time and effort as you actually put into working it. So with your ultimate – and distant – objective in mind, and your immediate plan for the next step or two in front of you, get moving:

  • Do something every day to move your plan forward.
  • Don’t think too far into the future.
  • Take the next steps required right now, and
  • Enjoy the intermediate successes you rack up when your efforts bring you to each of the nearby milestones or stepping stones in your half-plan.

Here’s the trick that allows this system to get you all the way to where you want to go:

Extend Your Half-Plan

As you complete each of the nearby steps in your half-plan, extend it by adding one more short-term step. You can and should do this without contemplating how much farther you need to go to reach your ultimate objective.

Just as “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” the longest, most complex tasks, projects, and goals can be completed by focusing on, taking motivation from, and working only on the next one, two, or three steps.

Though simple, this is a practical formula that will help you maintain and expand your ability to be productive and successful in both your work and your life.

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